To Save a People. . .
1972: Documentary Film "The Little Giants"

Story and Photography by JEAN-PIERRE HALLET

In an effort to make more people aware of the uniqueness of the African Pygmies and the tragedy of their imminent extinction, I wrote my major publication Pygmy Kitabu. I also felt that the visual depiction was imperative. In the fall of 1972, I conceived and produced a full-length documentary on the Efé Pygmies. At that time, the government of Zaïre was about to rule that the Pygmies could not be photographed, since they felt that their "primitive" appearance would promote bad public relations for the new nation. With great difficulties I completed this graphic document -- the first and last of its kind ever to be made -- incorporating into 86 minutes the essence of a lifetime of observation and understanding. It was a labor of love and an almost impossible task due to daily rain, government pressures, lack of competent help, and my own physical limitation, the loss of my right hand (in 1955, as the result of a dynamite explosion while "fishing" in lake Tanganyike to save the famine-stricken part-Pygmy Mosso people of Southern Burundi).

Back in the United States, at the end of 1972, I immediately started working full-time on the laborious editing of the film. I wanted to create a new dimension in a people documentary, not only to show how the Pygmies look like but what they really are, their feelings, thoughts, beliefs. In September 1973, "Pygmies" an Epic of the Golden Age was shown at a press preview at the Academy Award Theater in Los Angeles. It was a great success with standing ovations and excellent trade reviews.

The award-winning film follows the Efé Pygmies' life cycle portraying the unique customs surrounding their serene river-birth, the colorful marriage ceremony, and the moving cremation ritual. Their amazing precocity and artistic creativity are illustrated for the first time on the screen. Also shown is the sacred Toré ceremonial which precedes the hunt. The Pygmies' tremendous warmth and the depth of their emotions are felt throughout. Lorne Greene's powerful narration enriches its visual impact. The film reveals that these wise and once happy so-called primitive people hold a key to our emotional, mental and physical survival, suggesting that "civilized" society should establish a profound and realistic understanding of life -- not as a birthright, but as a very precious privilege.

I was sure that the film would be well accepted. I never expected it to be repeatedly rejected during the next year by all major distributors, for being "too honest, too artistic... too good" -- just not a commercial movie which would appeal to the average audience. "How do you expect people to pay to see a picture that has no sex, no violence, no suspense and no contrived drama -- a film that nobody can 'relate' to?" I was disgusted, since I believe that many people are eager for quality and meaning in a motion picture. However, I was determined to convey the plight of the Pygmies, and selected San Francisco California, as the ideal city for the introduction of the film. The Californian Academy of Sciences and the San Francisco Zoological Society sponsored three large benefit programs for The Pygmy Fund. Another success. On the strength of that, I finally persuaded a local theater circuit to run Pygmies in a regular theater. The reviews were outstanding and viewers seemed to be impressed, touched and, above all, made aware of how unique the Pygmies are and why it is so urgent to give them possibly their last chance to survive.

Top of the Page 1960:
Only 3,800 Surviving
1972: Documentary Film
"The Little Giants"
Presidential End Hunger Award
Poem: "People of Love" The Eighteen Sins of Man Contributions to
The Pygmy Fund